Elkhorn Creek - Forks of Elkhorn US460 Bridge to Knight's Bridge on KY1900 (6 miles)

Elkhorn Creek, Kentucky, US


Forks of Elkhorn US460 Bridge to Knight's Bridge on KY1900 (6 miles) (Elkhorn Gorge)

Usual Difficulty II(III) (varies with level)
Length 7.6 Miles
Avg. Gradient 10 fpm

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
usgs-03289500 250 - 6500 cfs II(III) 00h41m 686 cfs (running)
Optimum range

River Description

"Church Wave"

Located about a 45 minute drive from Lexington, KY, the "Gorge" section begins at the confluence of the Creek's north and south tributaries at the Forks of the Elkhorn bridge on US 460 just east of Frankfort,KY. This stream has proven to be an excellent ww classroom and play place for paddlers from across Kentucky, Indiana, and Ohio. Full of mostly class II rapids, with the occasional class III hydraulic, the Elkhorn is a stream with plenty to satisfy the novice or experienced whitewater paddler.


The view looking upstream at "LunchStop"

Lots of dynamic play spots and wide enough to generally stay free of strainers, the Elkhorn has a large watershed allowing it typically to keep its flow longer after a rain and is the place to paddle when others in Central Kentucky have become too low.
Watch out for the dangerous, drowning machine dam about 3/4 mile into the run at the bourbon distillery and portage only on river left. Note that this dam can be a very dicey portage at gauge levels above 3000 cfs (3+ feet on US460 bridge) The picture below was taken at a level of about 1000 cfs (1 foot).


Jim Beam Distillery dam downstream view - note boaters portaging and putting in below dam on river left.

AW Acres, just down stream of Knight's bridge is the land purchased for use as a takeout by individual paddlers and donated to American Whitewater as access of the Elkhorn for all private paddlers.

AW Acres takeout (looking from the creek). A gravel parking area has been added since this picture was taken.

To read more about the creek, how the takeout land was obtained, and history of the paddler/land-owner interactions, check out the online American Whitewater Journal article "AW Acres: The Elkhorn Saga" that appeared in the March/April 2000 issue.

Shuttle Directions:

Putin: Forks of the Elkhorn Bridge on US 460 about 3 miles east of Frankfort,KY. Parking next to the bridge costs $3 - pay at the Elkhorn Creek Campground office just upstream on the South Fork of the Elkhorn.

Takeout: From the Forks Bridge take US 460 west towards Frankfort and take a right at the stoplight onto KY 2822. Go about 1 mile on KY 2822 to the stop sign. Go right onto Steadmantown LN (actually a continuation of KY 2822) for about 2.5 miles to the stop sign at the intersection with Peaks Mill Rd (Ky 1900). Go about 4 miles and look for AW Acres takeout on the left just before Knight's Bridge over the Elkhorn.

Other Information Sources:  
Blue Grass Wildwater Association
BWA Elkhorn Creek page

National Paddling Film Festival
Video of C-1 caught in dam recirculation
Video about Removing or changing the distillery dam
Video of Dam Rapid
Video of IKs at 3000 cfs

StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2013-06-20 21:23:53


Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
0.0US 460 BridgeN/APutin Photo
0.2Church WaveIPhoto
0.7Distillery BridgesN/A
0.9Distillery DamN/APortage Hazard Photo
0.9Dam RapidII
1.5S Turn Rapid II+Photo
2.0Lunch StopIIPhoto
3.6Island splitN/A
3.8Surf CityIPhoto
7.6Elkhorn Acres - take outN/ATakeout Photo

Rapid Descriptions

US 460 Bridge (Class N/A)


Photo taken 02/12/11

There is a small fee to park and put in at this bridge.  Pay at the campground office. 

Church Wave (Class I, Mile 0.2)

The Dam that forms the Church Ledge

The Dam that forms the Church Ledge
Photo of Church Ledge Dam by Dale Perry taken 10/02/05 @ 46 cfs

Within sight of the put in, are several small rapids.   The middle one has the remains of a low dam arching across the river.  This low structure forms Church Wave.  It can develop decent hydraulics, creating a good beginner's play spot at higher levels. 

Distillery Bridges (Class N/A, Mile 0.7)

The river curves gradually right around the Jim Beam Distillery.   As you pass underneath these bridges, head towards river left and prepare to portage the low head dam. 

Distillery Dam (Class N/A, Mile 0.9)

Portage Start

Portage Start
Photo by Paul Martzen taken 02/24/08 @ medium

A river wide horizon line is formed by a low head dam.  It is near the end of a long gradual right hand curve around the Jim Beam Distillery.   A dangerous reversal forms at the base of the dam and gets worse as flows increase.   Portage the dam on river left.   The take out here is small and difficult to see.  At higher flows there is room only  for one boat at a time to get out.  A series of rock ledges provide a portage path.    Make sure you put back in well downstream of the dam recirculation.   People have been sucked back into the dam when they put in too close. 

Dam Rapid (Class II, Mile 0.9)

After portaging the dam on river left, boaters must paddle out towards the center of the river to run a significant rapid.   This can involve ferrying across the current to get into position.

S Turn Rapid (Class II+, Mile 1.5)


Photo of Cynthia Grimes by barry grimes taken 10/04/04 @ 1800cfs

The S-turn rapid is the first big rapid after the dam rapid. S-turn has an impressive diagonal wave, which seems to be at maximum height around 1500-2000 cfs.


Lunch Stop (Class II, Mile 2.0)

The scene at LunchStop

The scene at LunchStop
Photo of Todd Garland by barry grimes taken 10/04/04 @ 1800cfs

Island split (Class N/A, Mile 3.6)

The river splits around a long island.

Angioplasty (Class II, Mile 3.7)

contemplating the surf

contemplating the surf
Photo of Dave Lang by Matt Hernandez taken 05/29/10 @ 900 cfs

This hole can pack a punch.  Possibly class 3 at higher flows.

Surf City (Class I, Mile 3.8)

Lower waves in SurfCity

Lower waves in SurfCity
Photo by barry grimes taken 10/04/04 @ 1800cfs

Elkhorn Acres - take out (Class N/A, Mile 7.6)

and still more Elkhorn Acres

and still more Elkhorn Acres
Photo of The takeout by Dale Perry @ medium

Pass under the Peaks Mill Road bridge (KY 1900), then pull out on river left.  The take out  very close to the bridge is for Canoe Kentucky customers.   The public take out is about 100 yards below the bridge.   

There is a large parking area in a field.   The photo shows the field flooded during very high water.

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